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Alberty: How to catch the spectacular and punctual snow geese show in Delta

First Published      Last Updated Feb 23 2017 09:22 am

Delta • Snow geese are nothing if not punctual.

They migrate like clockwork every year along various narrow "skyways" up and down North America, arriving at their stopping points so reliably that chambers of commerce and tourism bureaus book them as the headlining act in town festivals from the Pacific Ocean to Quebec. (Bienvenue, oies des neiges!).

In Delta, where 20,000 geese are arriving in time for the Snow Goose Festival this Friday and Saturday, I thought it would be easy enough to spot them.

But the truth is, for such regimented, schedule-driven animals, the snow geese have behaved differently every time I've come to Gunnison Bend Reservoir for their annual two-week stopover. That is reflected in the often-contradictory advice I've found out there for birdwatchers who come to see the dramatic white birds fly en masse to and from their feeding grounds in the farm fields around Delta. Different write-ups recommend different viewing spots at different times — but none of them is wrong, in my experience.




One year they returned from their morning feeding at 9:30 a.m., flying in so many V formations that linked and intersected that it looked like an enormous grid floating over the sky from the southwest. They landed in a frenzied splash near the reservoir boat dock, and I immediately fell in love with the snow geese.

The next year, hardly any were at the reservoir all morning.

This year, on a tip from state wildlife biologist Lynn Zubeck, I roamed the fields near the tiny farming town of Sutherland, a few miles north of the reservoir. At about 9 a.m., some fluttering a half-mile away caught my eye. Big blotches of white came into focus on the ground. Feeding time! I'd never seen them in the fields before.

At 10 a.m., I hurried to the reservoir to try to figure out where and when they might return. There is virtually no public access on the northern end of the reservoir — the most logical landing area if they're flying from Sutherland. My old watching spots — the boat launch and the dam to the south — didn't offer good views.

But from the seemingly public street corner of 2000 West and 500 North, about half a block from a large, and not subtle, "KEEP OUT Bird Watchers" sign, I suddenly heard honking overhead. Clouds of geese were approaching! Thousands landed in the northeast pocket of the reservoir between 10:15 and 10:45 a.m. Large flocks (Zubeck reluctantly disabused me of the happy notion that a group of snow geese are called a "blizzard") still were trickling in at about 12:30 p.m.

The geese take an afternoon rest and usually return to the fields between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., Zubeck said, but that depends on the weather. In heavy winds like we've been having, he warned, a lot of geese might not make two feeding trips.

As it turned out, I almost missed their grand afternoon departure. Geese already were swirling like reverse tornadoes out of the reservoir as I returned to my spot just before 3 p.m. Within a half-hour, most of them were off.

I can easily imagine eager would-be birdwatchers chasing around the countryside, anxious they will miss a special moment. The good news is, Zubeck and his colleagues have been tracking the flock's patterns all week, and they will be at a booth near the reservoir boat launch to direct visitors to the likeliest times and places of avian drama.

With 20,000 geese in town, you'll probably catch some of the action.

 

AT A GLANCE

Delta Snow Goose Festival

Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25

Activities and events

» Snow goose observation, Friday and Saturday at Gunnison Bend Reservoir. State wildlife officers will staff a booth on the Sherwood Shores.

» Wild Goose Chase 5K walk/run and 10K fun run, 10 a.m. Saturday at the main beach on the west side of the Gunnison Bend Reservoir. Kids’ quarter-mile and 1-mile runs at noon. Registration details at deltagoosefestival.com.

» Quilt show, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Millard County Fairgrounds, 187 S. Manzanita Ave.

» Girls Night Out, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the fairgrounds, featuring speakers and demonstrations on quilting and crafting.

» Arts and crafts fair, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Main Street Community Center, 305 W. Main.


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